Transform Pickering: The Airport Perspective

By Mark Brooks and Ted Nickerson

On November 18, 2020, the Urban Land Institute (ULI) held a virtual event called “Transform Pickering: Big Moves in the GTA’s Frontier City”.  Moderated by Emma Ward (Bousfield Inc), the session provided a forum for Dave Ryan, Mayor City of Pickering, assisted by Paula Bustard, Fiaz Jadoon, and Johan Van’t Hof, to present key strategic projects and the long-term vision that will fundamentally transform the City of Pickering.  

The City’s vision strongly embeds employment creation, sustainability and the new airport. The future Pickering Airport appeared as an important thread within the event and some of the conversations have been extracted from the full session and are presented here.

Mr Van’t Hof, who is Durham Region’s representative on the Board of Directors of the GTAA (Greater Toronto Airports Authority) said it right when speaking of the Pickering airport opportunity:

The airport lands are unique in the world. It is an unprecedented assembly of land anywhere. It must be preserved for an airport. He also responded to a question on the booming utility, cargo and general aviation traffic and the immediate need for more infrastructure in the eastern Toronto area to support this new surge.

During the ULI event, it was suggested that the Southern Ontario Airports Network (SOAN) which includes Toronto Pearson and 10 other airports undertake a 2 to 3-year study on the roles and capacities of the airports’ network in Southern Ontario, especially in light of the impact of COVID19 has on aviation.

We do not support this idea.  We don’t need another study. It would just serve to further delay Pickering’s economic growth.

To his credit, Mayor Ryan immediately interjected opposing the idea saying we need to start the process now.

Given that the recent Pickering Lands Aviation Sector Analysis’ (ASA report) suggested approach is to open a small industrial airport first, with passenger capacity to follow as needed, such a study is irrelevant.  Just the idea that a subset of other airports in other municipalities hours away might try to use a study to delay Pickering airport by years is worrisome.

However, it also needs to be recognized that such a study is in some part self-serving in that it promotes existing airports while protecting their business models and expansion plans. None of these expansion plans come close to meeting the requirements that would enable any further delays to Pickering Airport as laid out in the ASA report.   Factoring in that some SOAN airports do not support a Pickering airport at all, preferring instead to see economic growth redirected to their host cities, only adds to our concerns.

As has been stated in previous site postings, any delay is consistent with the unstated “Build Pickering Last” mindset of competing municipalities.

True, the Southern Ontario Airports Network needs to understand the impact of COVID on their roles and the path and timing to aviation recovery in the GTA. This has little to do with the urgent need for local accessible aviation capacity in Durham region.   These needs are focused on the immediate/short-term recovery of aviation in the Toronto region and globally.  Current forecasts by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) point to domestic aviation recovering to 2019 levels in 2022.  With the COVID vaccines rolling out, we expect a Canada-USA trans-border aviation recovery in that period. Unfortunately, international aviation is forecast to take until at least 2024 to recover. The ASA report suggests breaking ground on an industrial airport, first phase opening years after this in 2029.

The ASA report states that Pickering Airport is viable.   We agree with Mayor Ryan’s statement “We need to get started now”.

We do understand the anxiety Pickering’s exciting growth opportunities is causing other regions, but those regions need to step away from a competitive mindset. Pickering Airport will play an important role in the transformation of Pickering’s economy and will benefit all of Southern Ontario not just Pickering.  Its primary roles should be seen as job creation and the generation of regional economic benefits.  

It will take 8 to 10 years for Pickering airport to become operational.  

Let’s start now.


Urban Land Institute website:

The full ULI Zoom session

ULI Toronto: Transform Pickering – Big moves in the GTA’s frontier city – Zoom

Pickering Utility Airport Economics – Friends of Pickering Airport

Ending the “Build Pickering Last” Strategy – Friends of Pickering Airport